Help Your Board Prepare for Change with Meredith Emmett and Heather Yandow : Successful Nonprofits

Episode 63

Help Your Board Prepare for Change with Meredith Emmett and Heather Yandow

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Episode 63

Help Your Board Prepare for Change with Meredith Emmett and Heather Yandow

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher    Libsyn

by GoldenburgGroup

Always consider your board’s life cycle, purpose, and mutual trust to know when and how to hold meetings.

We invitee Meredith Emmett and Heather Yandow to offer insights from their recent Board Leadership Forum presentation. These two leaders from Third Space Studio share how to create an environment that nurtures new idea, and our conversation included suggestions on  monitoring the “heat” of discussion, getting to know your board’s culture, establishing trust, and easing decision-making.

*****Time Stamped Highlights*****

(4:55) How you can help your board prepare for change
(5:45) “Holding environment”: The safe space your board needs to facilitate change
(8:00) Observing body language to see if your board is engaged
(9:00) When the conversation gets “too hot”
(10:45) Knowing your board’s culture before you propose change

It is okay to have virtual meetings, but make sure you balance them with in-person meetings so you can really know your board.

(14:46) Effective facilitation tools for small-group discussions
(18:00) Modifying your board
(20:45) Discussing the nuts and bolts of a good meeting
(24:24) Whether to have alcohol and food at meetings
(25:22) The pros and cons of having virtual meetings
(30:09) Tailoring your board’s decision making process
(38:00) Meredith and Heather discuss future plans


Meredith and Heather’s Firm’s website:
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Read the Transcript for Episode 63 Below or Click Here!

Your board needs to create a safe space for discussion or the changes you need will never happen.

Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast with our last episode taped live from the 2017 board leadership forum. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg, and I also have to say this has been my first experience this week taping the podcast live. I love this. I just wish I could afford to fly people into Atlanta so I could do this all the time. But I will share with you that we did save the best for last, the people who’ve been busiest at the board leadership forum and we’re like, well we can maybe squeeze you in in the last couple hours in the forum. So, today we’re going to be talking with Meredith Emmet and Heather Yandow and they will be sharing strategies for supporting boards and shifting mindsets and habits of your boards. Loyal listeners know I was an ED for about 12 years, and my favorite board chair was Rhonda Kay, our Cook, and Ronda who was from Kansas, he used to say, and also a West Point Grad used to say, the only change people like is the change in their pocket.

And I have always found that to be true. And whenever I’m trying to lead change, I always quote Rhonda because whenever we face change, even if you’re someone who embraces change, and some of us do, when it actually comes time to do something just a little bit different, we get this uneasy kind of queasy feeling like, are we gonna fail? This doesn’t feel quite right. And as humans we instinctively avoid that feeling of discomfort. We evolve to be like, “Oh, something doesn’t feel right. I need to go back to what’s comfortable.” In fact, so often we as humans will choose more pain in the future to avoid less pain. It’s what I think of is like Popeye’s friend. If you recall pop, I had this friend Jay Willington wimpy and he would say, I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today and we avoid change in the same way we say, I would rather face my consequences next year so that I don’t have to change this year.

Today’s guest, Meredith Emmett and Heather Yandow are experts in the field of adaptive leadership today. They will share techniques to create a space necessary to build a strong and resilient board capable of generating new ideas. Meredith Emmett is a facilitator, trainer and consultant known for her interactive and creative ways of engaging people in meaningful conversation and thoughtful action. As president of Third Space Studio, Meredith has worked with dozens of nonprofits in North Carolina and across the country. She is also like myself a former nonprofit executive director and like me, she’s living the dream. Every ED wants to grow up and become a consultant, and she has served on numerous nonprofit boards. Our long-time loyal listeners probably recall hearing Heather Yandow in episode 22 and episode 38 of the podcast. Not only has she just finished some amazing opportunities where she has presented a board leadership forum, but she is also the first human being not just on the planet but in the galaxy to have been on this podcast three times.

So, it’s a new, not just a personal record but a new Successful Nonprofits™ Podcasts record. So, as you may recall, Heather, yeah, endo is an expert in individual fundraising, and she also was responsible for the individual donor benchmark project. If you have not checked out the data on this and you are a data nerd like me, you’ve got to go to her website and check out this data, and what’s more, if you are an executive director or development director, you should really participate in the next individual donor benchmark project. It is well with your time to do so. Heather brings more than a decade of experience as an outreach coordinator, coalition leader, project manager and fundraiser. And she does all of this now with Third Space Studio and its clients. She has also served on many boards, and as I already said, she is the first person to be on this podcast three consecutive times. I’ll tell you she’s busy, so I’m thrilled that we got her.

Welcome to the podcast, Meredith and Heather.


M and H: Thanks so much for having us, glad to be here.

Dolph Goldenburg: So, how do we help boards prepare for change and actually change? And this is a big question, you can’t answer it in one sentence.

Meredith Emmet: So, I think one of the things is we’ve got to reframe that issue. You mentioned that people don’t, the only change people like is the change in their pockets. People don’t like change. And the reason that they don’t like change is they’re resisting loss. And sometimes that last is just the comfort of how they’ve always done things. And so when we can identify what people are losing and name it, and then create environments where people can begin to let go of what they need to let go off before they begin to adopt the new habits and behaviors that need to adopt.

Dolph Goldenburg: So how do you create those environments?

Heather Yandow: So, we talked to this morning and our workshop a lot about, uh, how to create what we call a holding environment. And the idea behind this is it’s a way to manage the emotions, the loss, the challenging parts of the change process by creating a safe environment for people to explore those issues, but also an environment that at times helps to really turn up the heat.

So, one of the most powerful concepts in this idea of managing change is the concept of the productive zone of disequilibrium. And it’s this idea that if, if things get too hot, if you’re in a meeting with your colleagues and things get too hot, too emotional, too fraught, then we’re not able to move forward. And at the same time, if things are not hot enough, if there’s no real passion or energy in the room, it’s easy for us to avoid and not to make decisions or make change. And so, managing that heat, making sure that there’s enough heat to keep people moving forward, but not too much where they can’t actually respond is a really important way to think about managing change.

Dolph Goldenburg: And, as you said, it’s not a one-size-fits all. So, how do you know how much heat?

Meredith Emmet: Oh, that’s a good question. How do you know how much heat? I think part of the question about how do you know much too heat is the purpose of the heat is to give the work of change back to the people who need to do the change.

And so, what helps people do the work if they’re not able to do the work, you really got to think about is the heat too high? People are telling me that they are not willing to consider the questions that we have put on the table or that they’re not willing to consider some of those new habits and behaviors. And they’re just like running away from the conversation that may tell us the heat’s too low. That means to tell the heat’s too high. But it’s that place of knowing that people are doing the work that they need to do.

Heather Yandow: And I’ll just add to that. What that means as someone who is leading these conversations is that you have to really pay attention, not just to what’s being said, but to what’s not being said. And so, paying attention to things like body language. If people are standing or sitting, if people are engaging or not engaging in the conversation, all of those are signs that are telling you how much heat you need to add or take away from this situation.

Dolph Goldenburg: And so, the standing/sitting thing, tell me more about that.

Heather Yandow: So, I see this, uh, when people are starting to 1) lose energy for a conversation. You might see people push away from the table, pushed out of the conversation and stand up as a way of really signaling that they’re done. Now sometimes it’s just that they need a break and time for us to get some coffee.

But sometimes that’s a sign of disengagement. By the same token, there are some folks who when they get agitated, when there is a lot of heat, then they can’t sit still. They have to stand. And so, that might also be a sign that there’s a little too much energy in the conversation. And we need to find ways to, again, lower that heat, which might be things like taking a break. And it might be checking in with that person to see what’s going on over that break.

Meredith Emmet: I actually just had the experience downstairs in a conversation where the heat got too high on a topic, and it was fascinating to me to watch. I was in a session downstairs about creating more diverse boards that had inclusive cultures. And so, I was in a small group of people, and I put the question out on the table of I’m beginning to wonder if we are asking people to be included in structures that are grounded within white culture and maybe we need to be having conversations about those structures. It was fascinating to watch the four other people who were sitting there in the conversation with me. First, there was defensiveness about those structures and sort of an ownership of why some of those structures matter and then a very quick changing of the subject back to sort of the question that was on the table. And so, those are good examples of how when something feels really hot to folks, what they’ll do to get out of the conversation.

Dolph Goldenburg: I know you, you had to come up here, so you were not able to be down there the entire time, but if we were to maybe move forward with that example, how would you create a holding space for that group so they could safely process that?

Meredith Emmet: This was a group that sitting in that group of five, there were at least three if not four cultures that I could directly name. I would begin to get the individuals who represent different cultures to think about within the constructs of your culture, how do you make decisions? How do you have conversations? How do you use time? How are those things being honored and respected and valued within the boards that you are currently a part of?

Heather Yandow: I’ll also add that one of the things we know about holding environments is that building trust among the participants in a conversation is really important. So, in this example, we are showing up at a workshop at a conference, having no existing relationships. When we’re talking boards going through change processes, that’s a different scenario. I would want to look for ways as well to build the trust in the relationships so that people are more likely to be able to have those conversations and feel safe having those conversations.

Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s talk about how to build those relationships and that trust because so often I will walk into a board retreat, and in this modern age where some people call into board meetings, nine times out of 10, they’ll literally, people are introducing themselves in person for the first time and they’re like, “Oh, it’s so good to finally meet you.” How do you build those relationships and that trust?

Heather Yandow: So, I’ve had the same experience. I think a lot of it comes for me in slowing down and being intentional around trust. Sometimes the building of relationships feels like one of those soft things that we shouldn’t have to worry about, but there is a lot of wisdom in the idea that to move to go far, you have to go slow. And so really slowing down the process. If I’m facilitating a board retreat or working with a group in a meeting of how do we make sure that folks are introducing themselves in multiple ways, not just the quick handshake before we get down to business, but is there a coffee half hour at the beginning of the meeting? What are the ways that we introduce ourselves, not just at the start of the meeting but over and over again? How do we make sure people are working in small groups with multiple different people over the course of the meeting so they’re getting a chance to really experience and learn how other people think?

So, it’s slowing down and being really thoughtful and intentional about how you help people connect with the others in the room.

Meredith Emmet: The thing that I would add, and it’s a technique that I always use as a consultant and I’m always struck by the fact that we don’t assume we can do it in board meetings, is that when we are starting a conversation about a particular topic, is the value of having a paired conversation first about that topic before we begin to have that conversation as a whole group. I mean it has the value of allowing each individual to get a little clearer about how they think, but also to learn about how somebody else’s thinking. So, I may discover, “Oh, I have somebody sitting next to me who is thinking a little similarly. I might have an ally in my sense of what might have been an outlier opinion.” That just helps to build trust because we understand where people are coming from before we launch into the whole group conversation.

Dolph Goldenburg: Part of what I love about that is if I want to do express an opinion that I thought might be an outlier, it’s easier to do that with one person than with a whole group. Even if that person disagrees with me, it’s way easier. I love that. Now, do you use strategy cafes at all in board meetings?

Meredith Emmet: do you mean that like a world cafe?

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Meredith Emmet: Oh all the time.

Dolph Goldenburg: Can you talk about world cafe a little bit? So cause, cause our listeners may not know what it’s either strategy cafe or world cafe. So

Meredith Emmet: and we actually sometimes call it carousel. We will break down a topic into perhaps individual conversations. We’ll have people form in small groups and visit each of the stations and talk about the question that’s there in the station. And they may have five to seven minutes in a station, and then they’ll rotate to the next station. About five stations is about the max, seven minutes in each station, five groups. You’ve had a chance for every single person in the room to express their opinion about a sub question related to something all in 35 minutes. I did this the other day with a board who just adopted their new strategic plan. The questions were, what metrics might we need to use to track related to our three goals? So, we had a station related to each goal and metrics. What does this mean in terms of our board structures? What might need these goals mean in terms of who needs to be on our board? Five stations, seven minutes each. They had incredibly rich conversations, and it took 35 minutes.

Dolph Goldenburg: Nice. So, if you assume like your average board meeting is 90 minutes, maybe two hours, you’re pushing intention span, it sounds like you believe that using 25% of your meeting time for that it is a good use.

Meredith Emmet: Absolutely. I heard an executive director today say, “If I only talked for 5% of the time, it’s a really great board meeting. But that means you need to be really intentional about how you set up that other 95% of the time to engage the board in the right conversations and the right work.” And it needs to be tied to where the organization wants to be.

Dolph Goldenburg: What other tips or hacks have you got for helping to build that holding environment within your board meeting?

Heather Yandow: So, a few of the other pieces that we talked about this morning. One is to provide data and metrics. For boards it’s often data about their own performance, and there are a lot of tools out there where boards can have some assessment and even judge themselves against some benchmarks. You have some benchmarking that may help with that?

Giving a group data can help to raise sometimes the heat of around a particular conversation. We’ve seen examples where providing this kind of data has really clearly helped boards identify where their challenges are. Something that has been kind of simmering below the surface for a long time suddenly becomes really apparent. Data is one way to do that. A second that I’ll mention is providing folks with tools and frameworks to help understand the question in a different way. So, that could be anything from an article on the nonprofit lifecycle, which could help people see that the pain they’re experiencing, the challenges they’re experiencing are normal parts of what a nonprofit goes through. That would be lowering the heat. You may use a framework around fundraising or strategic planning that would help raise the heat a little bit, that might give them some more to chew on and some more to work with.

Meredith Emmet: One I would add to that is thinking about where do we meet and if we have intentions about what kind of organization that we might want to be, how do we change where we meet to sort of reflect that identity? So, you know, have we always been sort of a kitchen table organization meeting in someone’s living room because we started as a volunteer organization, and now we’re getting a little more grown up. We’ve got some staff. We’ve got to be really serious about fundraising for the organization because we support that staff. Maybe it’s time to move out of the living room into something that looks a little more professional. Perhaps, we’re sitting around a big board table kind of thing. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe we’ve gotten a little too corporate and our thinking and a little disconnected from the communities that we serve. And maybe we need to be spending time in one of the facilities of our organization or in a community center in a community that we serve. And so, really changing up where we meet just to better understand who we are.

Dolph Goldenburg: It’s funny you say that. I once ran community center, the William Way Community Center, which was named after the person who’s living room they met in, in the 1970s. So, it is kind of amazing the impact you can have as the host of that meeting.

Meredith, Heather, we’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, I’d love to talk about more of those nuts and bolts of the meeting to really make better meetings.

The Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast is produced by the Goldenburg Group as part of our mission to provide board development, strategic planning and interim services that help nonprofits thrive in a competitive environment. Check us out at

Okay. So here is the thing that I think a lot of small and medium sized nonprofits that are listening to this as they’re driving home from work or while they’re working late or whatever would really, really want to know. That’s the nuts and bolts of the board meeting. Obviously it’s not one size fits all. Every organization is a unique, but questions I got a lot. How often should my board meet? And I know the answer depends, but you know, why does it depend? How long should my board mead? Should there be food? Shouldn’t there be food? Should there be wine? Shouldn’t there’d be wine? Should there be wine after and not before? Talk to us about the nuts and bolts.

Meetings are rituals, so keep this in mind when your board is holding meetings via telephone or video.

Heather Yandow: So, Dolph, you’ve hit on potentially one of our favorite topics, which is this idea of creating better meetings. We really believe that much of organizational work and organizational culture is embedded in meetings, and for the board, sometimes that is really what they see as their board service, how they’re coming to these meetings. We are pretty passionate about creating great meetings. I’ll say from the start, we really think about what’s the purpose of a meeting. That helps to identify how often and how long. In a lot of ways the purpose of these meetings probably has to do with where your organization is in its lifecycle. So, if you are an organization that is still in an early stage where you have a working board that really is the organization, they are not only the board members, they’re also the volunteers. Maybe the volunteer staff. You might have a paid staff person. That’s a board that probably needs to meet pretty regularly and for a good amount of time because they are the organization. As a board grows, as an organization grows and matures and the board becomes more governing and managing, then you can start to move from meeting every month, see meeting every other month to meeting once a quarter potentially. Um, but really thinking about a lifecycle is one determinant I think of of how often a board should meet.

Meredith Emmet: I would agree with that. And I think that it’s like how do you know when it’s time to change the schedule that you’ve had for a long, long time? We’ve been meeting monthly forever. How do we know that it’s time to move bimonthly? And usually it’s reflected in the conversations that we’re having. You know, oftentimes if we’re meeting monthly as a board, we’re probably more likely to dive into the things that our staff is going, “Wait a minute, I got that covered.” And when those kinds of tensions are rising, it’s not time for the conversation about this is your lane board, this is your sport, this your lane staff.

It’s time for, “Maybe as a board we don’t need to meet as frequently,” because every time you bring people together into a room, they’re going to find meaningful ways to contribute, and they will make things up.  They’ll want to do good work for the organization.

Dolph Goldenburg: I think that’s the quote of the episode. Every time you bring good people in our room, they will find meaningful ways to contribute, and they may make things up.

Meredith Emmet: Yeah.

Dolph Goldenburg: Love that.

Meredith Emmet: Yeah, absolutely. And so if they’re making up the wrong work that’s not really benefiting the organization, that’s a good signal that it’s time to shift the frequency of the meeting.

Heather Yandow: I do think we talked earlier about building trust and building relationships. I think having food and potentially having alcohol can be great ways to do that. I also think that if you are hosting board meetings 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM after work, you’ve got working parents on your board that having food and potentially having childcare can be really great ways to make sure that your board members can fully be present that you can have a board that is truly representative of the community that you serve. So, it’s not just a nicety necessarily. It’s not just a way to build trust. There are some real practical implications for attending to those kinds of real needs of your board members.

Dolph Goldenburg: This is one that I have really strong opinions about, but obviously I want to know your opinion and that’s attending meetings virtually. So, by phone or you don’t see that much by video anymore but by phone.

Meredith Emmet: So, meetings are rituals, and how do you create rituals in the context of the phone or video or some online system? I’ve recently been working with a group of folks that are actually spread all over the world. It’s a very working board. So, we meet once a month, and for a long, long time we did conference calls. We recently have realized that it’s really important for everybody to be on the same page. And so, it’s become very important to do some sort of online meeting, so we have a shared vision visual. So, the shared visual has really become our conference table, so to speak. We shifted up because we recognize what was happening wasn’t working, you know. How do you create the check-in experience that you know when we are all walking into a board room, you know you say, “Hey, Dolph. How are you? You know, last time I saw you were off to run a marathon. How did it go?” If we were meeting in person, we would have had that conversation. It’s a little harder to have that conversation virtually, but how do you create it? It’s also why I love online chat functions in whatever meeting platform you are using because it gives people permission to have those side conversations.

Dolph Goldenburg: Is there a meeting platform you recommend?

Meredith Emmet: I use GoToMeeting. I also liked Zoom a lot.

Dolph Goldenburg: I use Blue Jeans, which is a lot like zoom. Zoom is less expensive than GoToMeeting as well. Blue Jeans is like $12-13 bucks. Zoom allows screen sharing because to me like that’s the critical stuff. When you’re in a room together, and people are flipping through, they might ask, what page are we on? Someone next to them can go, “Okay, page 25 right here,” and they can share the paper. When it’s online, and people are flipping through Facebook asking, “What page are we on?” You can just put it on your screen and say, “All right, page 25.”

Heather Yandow: I do think it’s important if you are having these virtual meetings on a regular basis to have some opportunity for the board or the steering committee or whatever it is to get together in person on a regular basis. That can be really cost prohibitive depending on where your board members are. But that combination of we get together at least once a year and when we get together it’s for a longer period of time, there is an opportunity to have social time together and to really get to know each other. That makes the virtual piece work in my opinion. It is difficult to do it without having some chance for folks to meet in person and, and that’s true for the group Meredith just described, but I’m curious your opinion, Dolph.

Dolph Goldenburg: Ultimately, boards get to decide what they want to do. Typically, what I say is your board commitment needs to fall just after your family, your faith and your work. After those three, that’s where it needs to be. The only time that it’s probably okay to dial in or virtual into a meeting is if you are traveling for family faith or work okay then it’s fine. Otherwise, traffic’s bad is not a good reason to not show up at the meeting. I know that’s harsh. That’s Dolph’s 2 cents.

Meredith Emmet: I think that also gets down to the place of, it’s really hard when you have one group of people who’s in the room and one group of people who’s on the phone because then we’ve not created an inclusive culture. So, if people are telling us it’s hard for me to get to the meeting, let’s create only online meetings or only in person meetings. But the split thing is really hard because it’s like having an interfaith family, you know, it’s really hard work to bring those two cultures together.

Dolph Goldenburg: Well yeah, and it’s funny you say that because the split thing, if you’ve got 12 board members and five of them are virtual and seven of them are in person, you kind of get the worst of both worlds because you have the disruptions of the in-person meeting people walking in late, you know, someone getting up and getting food, someone spilling their coffee on the table, whatever it is. But then you have all the worst things about a phone conference. You hear a beep, and you want introduce everybody, and you’d have to say who’s in the meeting. So to me, like when you have the split meeting, it just evolves into the lowest common denominator of both of those meetings.Do you all shaking your heads?

Meredith Emmet: Absolutely.

Meredith Emmet: Hey, can we talk about decision making?

Dolph Goldenburg: Yes. Let’s please talk about decision making!

Meredith Emmet: So, one of my, um, observations is that we make an assumption the decisions have to be made by Robert’s Rules of Order. For some people it’s written into their bylaws. But for others of us, it’s a big assumption. And what I like to say to folks is, yes, you need a way to make decisions, and that understanding of how we make decisions needs to be really clear and needs to be explicit. You need to tell new people about how you make decisions, but you can choose as an organization, how do we make decisions and what works for us? Too often folks, very few of us understand all the intricacies of Robert’s Rules of Order and it can be a real exclusionary tactic

Dolph Goldenburg: And few and very few of us care to know all the intricacies.

Heather Yandow: So, on the other side of that, I think not being too rigid and Robert’s Rules I think is very rigid if you follow it to the letter. The other thing we default to sometimes is what we call with air quotes “consensus,” which means we talk about something and if no one’s strenuously and vocally objects, we move forward. And that is also a problem in decision making. We use a number of things. One of my favorite is called, we call it five finger voting, and it’s the idea that when we feel like there is consensus or agreement, we feel like a decision has been made, we test it out, and we ask everyone sitting around the table or on the phone, “On a scale of zero to five, five being the best, how do you feel about this decision that we’re about to make?” And so, what that means is we go around the table, and we might get um, some fours and fives. So, people are really excited about it. But if we get a block, which would be a zero, you put up your fist or a one, then the question to those folks is what would make you move up and ranking? What would we need to change so that you would be more excited about this proposal? It helps identify people who are opposed. The other reason we really like it is because, let’s say you have a proposal and everybody is around the table, and they’re kind of nodding their heads and you do the five-finger voting and you get twos and threes, so it’s this very middling. Then, there’s not real consensus there. People aren’t really excited, and particularly with a volunteer board who may be is going to be the one to carry out the decision that you make, if no one’s really excited about it, then they’re likely not to do it. Then the question is, how do we get folks excited about this? So again, if you’re a two or three, how do we make you a four or five? What needs to shift? Five-finger voting is one of those tools that I might suggest folks Google and see if it would fit for their boards.

Dolph Goldenburg: Are there other decision-making tools that will be helpful for boards?

Meredith Emmet: I mean, with five-finger voting. There’s a couple variations. Sam Canners level of agreement is an interesting. It’s a variation of it. It’s a little more extensive. I think there are nine levels of it. So I think that’s a good one to look at. There’s also Roberta’s rules.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah. Someone mentioned this to me this week. It’s now on my reading list. Amazon will be delivering it to my house in the next couple of days.

Meredith Emmet: It comes out of women’s organizations. Um, and so I’m not as familiar with all of the intricacies of, of it, but I mean there’s a lot of things out there. Look to the cultures of people who are represented on the board in terms of, what are the ways of making decisions within those cultures and how do we bring those into the board?

Dolph Goldenburg: What are the things I love about the five-finger decision technique is at least typically when I look at a board meeting, I can divide the board into thirds. So, a third talk a lot. Another third will say something in every meeting, and then another third, you don’t know what they’re thinking. You don’t know if they’re thinking about their cat or if they are afraid to talk or whatever.

Heather Yandow: Absolutely. So, the five-finger voting is a really good way of making sure that everyone can voice their opinion. We also use some other facilitation techniques that help get every voice out. So, things like, uh, doing dot voting around different options. So, let’s say you’re considering a whole set of board priorities for the next year. You might give every board member three dots, and they can go and place those dots on which of the highest priorities. It’s not verbal, so that’s helpful for some people. They can use their dots, and then the board has a different set of data about what these board priorities might be.

Dolph Goldenburg: part of what I love about that is the economic underpinning of that. So like if you’ve got four dots, you know, you can be a super voter on this one issue and choose to not have a vote on any of the others. That’s what I love about dot voting.

Meredith Emmet: And what I love is that the person who’s really passionate about something may put all four of their dots on something, and then they realize they’re dots are the only dots on something. They’re passionate about it and other people may not be as passionate about it. It also gives the information to the rest of the board that there’s a lot of passion for that particular piece in the room. And how do they bridge that?

Dolph Goldenburg: So, any other decision techniques that you all wanted to talk? When we’ve got five-finger voting and got dot voting.

Meredith Emmet: We use another one. When we’re trying to choose amongst multiple options and be able to assess those options along a variety of different criteria, we put up the options around the room and ask people to go and stand next to the one that fits their criteria. You know, I might put out a criterion, it has the potential to raise the most money for us, and different people will go and then we’ll ask people to share out their why. Then we might put out a different criterion around the same options of we have the ability to do this. We have the skills and the knowledge to take on this project, and people might really shift up where they stand, and we might soon discover that of the different options it’s clear which one kind of rises to the surface. Sometimes, I ask people at the end, is this is the option you really like? And people discover, “Oh, the option I really like isn’t going to bring in money. We don’t have the staff capacity to do it. And really all we got is that I like it.”

Dolph Goldenburg: What I like about that option, additionally, the dot-voting is you walk around because if it’s a 90-minute or two-hour board meeting, you know after 45 minutes the human body wants to get up. So, I really like that.

Meredith Emmet: Some percentage, I can’t remember the percentage off the top of my head of us are kinetic learners. We’re not visual. We’re not auditory. We have to move.

Dolph Goldenburg: Well, I am so thrilled that you all came on the podcast today, but before I let you go, I want to ask an Off-the-Map question. So, Meredith, thus is your first time on. Heather, you’re an old pro at this. The Off-the-Map question is a question not directly related to what we talked about today, but that will give listeners an opportunity to know a little bit more about you. So, this Off-the-Map question comes in part because this is the last interview that I’m doing at the 2017 Board Leadership Forum, and we have had an amazing so far day and three quarters at the forum. Although for me, one of the reasons it’s been amazing is I have been doing tons of podcast interviews, and I think I have been to one- and three-quarter sessions total. So, when folks ask what sessions I loved and what I got out of it, what I get to say to them is, oh well I’ve been doing interviews, and this is kind of cool cause I get to ask dumb questions of smart people. So, the question I would like to ask you, given the fact that I have missed almost every session, what one big idea will each of you be taking back to North Carolina and using with a board that you serve on or work with?

Heather Yandow: One of the most compelling and impactful pieces of the leadership forum so far was actually the opening keynote by Board Source CEO [Ann Wallacestead] who made an excellent case for boards really needing to step up into their advocacy role, for boards and nonprofit organizations. There are many, many reasons for that, our political climate, the funding that nonprofits get. But she just made such a clear and passionate case for that. And that’s not something that I have in the past really focused on with organizations. I work with some advocacy organizations who automatically are focused on that. But I think, how do I incorporate that into other nonprofits who haven’t seen that as their role? And thinking about how I really talked to them is one of the questions that’s kind of rumbling in the back of my head right now.

Meredith Emmet: It’s funny you say that, Heather, because that was actually my big takeaway too, but it was much more [not] about how we traditionally think about that advocacy role of expressing our right opinion on a decision that an elected official is about to make, but it’s the role particularly for board members of telling the story about the impact or the potential impact of the decisions that elected officials are about to make. Because as board members; we know our communities; we know the issues in those communities. We know the strengths in those communities, and we can tell the stories about what’s going to happen as a result of those decisions, and we can make it a lot more real and take it away from sort of facts and figures and rules and regulations.

Dolph Goldenburg: That was one of my takeaways as well. One of the things I realized is I have not mentioned the attack on the Johnson Amendment to any of my clients. And when I realized that, I had a certain sense of shame. This impacts potentially impacts everybody that I serve.

Meredith Emmet: Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that too. I haven’t talked to any of my clients about that.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah. I think all of us who are consultants have to go home and figure out what we’re going to do to protect the nonprofit sector.

Thank you again for joining us today. I am grateful that you came in before I let you go, in addition to the Off-the-Map question, I always want to make sure that listeners know how they can reach out to you. So there are several things that I want this news to do. The first is go to Now, that is obviously their firm’s website. You can find out about their services, but you can also find out about their incredible This Fundraising Life podcast. I think they’re doing a series of nine and nine will be coming out shortly, which means if you one of those folks that love to binge listen podcasts, you will have that opportunity.

So, that’s number one. Number two is if you do not already know about the Individual Donor Benchmark Project, well first go and listen to episode number 22 and then go to and click on the individual donor benchmark project and find out more about it. You can download a great data report and you can also find how your organization can participate. It is worth your while. I also want to make sure that you connect with them on Twitter and Facebook at and Those are the things I would love for listeners to do when they turn their podcast streamer off today. So again, Meredith, Heather, thank you so much for joining us today.

Meredith and Heather: Thank you Dolph. This has been fun. Thanks for having us.

Dolph Goldenburg: As always, if you did not write down those URLs, and you want them, go to and check out our show notes. You can find them there. You can probably also find some contact information for Meredith and Heather. I know that they would love to hear from you. Now, my key takeaway from this meeting is I’ve used dot-voting, but I’ve actually not used five-finger voting a lot and I need to start using that again and there’s a board that I’m involved with and I’m like, yeah, shame on me. I should have brought that to them a long, long time ago. I hope that you have gotten the key takeaway that you are going to bring back to your organization so that it will hopefully help your organization’s board these stronger, healthier, and better and more resilient. As always, if you enjoy this episode, I’d love for you to go on and subscribe, rate and review us at iTunes, Stitcher, or your streaming app of choice. If you’re not so much the subscribing kind of a person, follow me on Twitter or on Facebook. There is a one Dolph Goldenburg on the planet that is me. If you Google it, it will come up. That’s our show for this week. I hope that you have gained some insight that will help your nonprofit thrive and a competitive environment.

(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.


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